This is the final part of the debate over legalization of marijuana. Now I will attempt to weigh the evidence for and against the legalization and share some of my conclusions. Obviously, this is going to be my position only. Your position may differ and given the complexities of the issues involved, won’t be surprising if people come to different conclusions. Understandably, people’s positions are most very likely to evolve as the issue works its way through the process.

Before getting into my conclusion I wanted to address a few of the stickier issues despite everyone’s persuasive arguments, which still remain undecided or too close to call. They’re important issues that seem to weigh heavily in most calculations, so they’re worth spending a little time on.

First, we need to talk about the issue of addiction. Depending on which definition of “addiction” you apply, marijuana is or is not addictive. It’s a result-driven exercise used to support whatever point someone wants to make. It’s not a proper use of scientific evidence; it’s more political than anything else. I prefer the more classical definition of “addiction”, which talks about the need to increase usage to achieve the same effect (i.e., you have to use more of a drug to get the same high). Marijuana under that definition is not addictive in the way that we know other drugs like cocaine are. People who use marijuana tend to use it in about the same amount and don’t really ramp up usage over time. All of this is to say that arguments relying on the so-called “addiction” dangers are probably not that persuasive and should be discounted.

Second, the other common refrain against legalization is that it will increase teenage use and therefore later adult use. Given that there are a number of states that have already legalized recreational use, we now have some numbers on that front that are too close to call. Some studies suggest teen use increases, while others forcefully argue that it decreases. Again, there’s a lot of politics in this science, so it’s hard to do anything except discount both conclusions and make this a non-factor in the decision-making process.

Third, there is a common argument that increased usage means more impaired drivers and workers leading to more accidents occurring. Unfortunately, we just don’t know if that’s true. The data cuts both ways and the layering of alcohol into the discussion totally skews the results. The reality is that there are already legal substances that cause impairment, alcohol being the number one cause among these. No one is seriously talking about banning alcohol to reduce impaired driving (even though it exists), but they expect us to believe that not legalizing marijuana should be considered to avoid increased impaired driving (even if they can’t prove it). All in all, it’s a pretty weak argument, one that ultimately requires people to police their own use of substances that can cause impairment. We don’t accept drunken airline pilots (though they exist) in the workplace nor should we accept high ones (and they will probably also exist). There are already consequences, both criminal and financial, for abuse of these substances. Adding a new substance to the mix doesn’t change any of that.

For me personally, taking everything into account, I come down on the side of legalization. I am very concerned about some of the unintended consequences of increased usage, particularly in the workplace. As someone who has spent decades teaching the construction trades about workplace safety, it’s something that hits close to home. That said, I also think the employment marketplace will sort out that problem to a large extent, in the same way that abuse of alcohol has been addressed. If you choose to use marijuana, legal or otherwise, you may impair your job performance and indeed, you may lose your job entirely. That’s a personal decision, which the consequences must be owned at the individual – not governmental – level.

I also believe that the regulatory scheme that is set up to support legalization needs to recognize the past abuses by our government, particularly in regard to our inner cities. If a huge amount of tax revenue is not earmarked for infrastructure improvements in those cities hardest hit by the War on Drugs, we will have missed a golden opportunity to right a shameful wrong. Without this, we are simply going to add an additional tax to communities that were hard hit by overzealous prosecution and law enforcement abuses, while others continue to profit. If the result of legalization is that the maker of Marlboro adds billions to its bottom line while the inner cities remain mired in blight and garbage, then we will have failed. That result is far more likely than any other, so we need to address it right up front in the legislation needed to make marijuana legal. Tax revenues must also be considered for funding training programs for those returning from prisons on marijuana charges due to the war on drugs.

We need to acknowledge as the culture shifts, our approach to government must also shift. Marijuana once the symbol of the counter-culture has now become basically mainstream. Keeping something illegal and continuing to expend resources that are ineffective at stopping it is just wasteful spending. Let’s stop wasting taxpayer dollars on something those taxpayers increasingly don’t see as worth demonizing any more.

Keeping it out of the hands of kids, however, must be a priority or else we’ll lose a couple of generations of them if we’re not careful. There needs to be strict penalties for distributors and marketers of this product. They need to know that if their product gets into the hands of kids, there will be financial consequences for them. A license to distribute marijuana must be known to all possessing one, that it is easily revocable. Big Tobacco made billions for decades targeting teenagers to smoke cigarettes. If we don’t pay close attention, history can and may repeat itself, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

In short, I’m in favor of a common-sense legalization, one that acknowledges the debt that is owed to certain communities, one that places responsibility on the individual, and one that punishes those who abuse their license to distribute and sell the product. If we acknowledge the drawbacks in our architecture of the regulatory system, we can build a better system. If we focus only on the benefits, we’ll rush headlong into at least twenty years of unintended consequences, abuse, and wasted opportunities.

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and concerns. This series has come to an end, but we can and should certainly continue the debate.

If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at [email protected]

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